Landlord News

Dealing with Disputes on a Joint Tenancy

Em Morley - February 6, 2015

Recently, the Landlord Referencing forum received a question from a landlord concerning a joint tenancy.

The landlord, named as Miss Elly, explained her predicament: “I rented a house to a group of sharers on a 12-month joint AST [Assured Shorthold Tenancy]. The signed and witnessed tenancy agreement states an amount of rent to be paid monthly for the whole property.

“These tenants have been paying the rent into my account, each making payments of their own share of the total amount, which have varied each month by small amounts.

“I have finally got my act together and outlined to them that there is a small shortfall of rent, about £350, and asked them to bring the rent up to date.”

Miss Elly continues: “They have raised an issue with me because in one email to one tenant a few days before they moved in, she queried, “What is the rent again?” and I sent her a quick email with a lower amount identified, which was an error.

“She caught me on the hop and I replied without checking my files. She now says that my typographical error email “constituted the contract and superseded any contracts previously.” I think that she is trying it on. What do I do now?”1

A landlord named Jo was quick to respond, sympathising that this is “a horrible position to be in.”

Jo also offers her advice: “I think that if the tenancy agreement signed by all the sharers has the correct amount on it, then that is the right rent on the contract.”

She continues by providing a solution: “You could offer to accept the error and ask for the correct rate from now, sending each of them a letter explaining the problem.”1

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Additionally, another landlord, Mary Latham, details the situation thoroughly, explaining what the landlord did wrong and how it can be rectified.

Latham says: “Many landlords make a fundamental mistake when issuing a joint AST, and unfortunately you have done the same.”

“You have communicated with an individual and spoken about an individual rent,” she explains.

“This is the way that a joint tenancy should be managed:

  1. The tenants named are the global tenant, they are not individuals and should not be treated as such or communicated with individually. All communications should be addressed to all named tenants and each should be sent a copy.
  2. The rent is the rent for the whole property, as is the deposit. We should not refer to an individual’s contribution; that is for the tenants to decide.
  3. The property is the whole property and we should not refer to individual rooms; that is also for the tenants to decide.
  4. This is a joint tenancy, which means that they are both jointly and individually responsible for all costs and it is vital that we don’t do anything to change that legal obligation.”

Latham goes on to say how the tenants will also be affected: “Not only are you in a difficult situation, the other tenants are too:

  1. The whole rent for the property, as stated on the AST, is due.
  2. If one of the joint tenants pays less, the others must make up the difference; they won’t like that and will be supportive of your request for the full payment.
  3. You have slipped up by communication with one individual, but that person has signed the AST knowing the rent that is due and therefore if that person pays less the others are forced to make up the shortfall; I am sure that the individual does not realise this.
  4. If at the end of the tenancy there is a shortfall, you will be able to make a claim against the joint deposit for the balance.
  5. Your communication was an error, but the AST is a legally binding contract which has been signed and witnessed, and therefore can be enforced.”

Latham offers support for other areas also: “All of the above applies to rent arrears and damages, and I have seen many landlords try to claim from an individual when in fact they should be claiming from the joint deposit, which should be protected as one amount in the name of the lead tenant, naming the others as joint tenants.

“Any claim is then sorted out between the tenants when they know the total amount being withheld; only they know who is responsible in common areas and therefore only they can decide who should take the loss from their deposit contribution.”

Latham then provides a conclusion: “In this situation, it’s best to write to all the tenants and explain the above and let them come back to you with the solution.”1

It appears that Miss Elly has not responded to the advice, and thus it is not clear what happened in her situation. However, the tips from Mary Latham could help many landlords in a similar situation.

1 http://www.landlordreferencing.co.uk/forum/discuss/community-forum/i-made-a-mistake-can-i-be-held-to-it/#p28133